Photograph by Drew Fulton
Current City: Berkeley, California
What did you want to be when you were growing up?
I recall a deep desire to be an astronaut that lasted until the family doctor predicted that I would probably be too tall to qualify for the space program. I think that literally brought me back to Earth, but there must be something about the idea of exploring remote places.
How did you get started in your field of work?
I am fortunate to have benefited from a number of very inspiring mentors, particularly a few biology professors who introduced me to the diversity of life in the tropics. Ultimately, I decided that to understand biodiversity, I needed to see it firsthand. I started with an undergraduate summer research fellowship in Panama, traveled directly to Costa Rica to study field biology for a semester, and after a quick break, got right back on a plane for a research fellowship in Singapore. It quickly became a bit of an .... obsession?
What inspires you to dedicate your life to biodiversity?
I am fascinated by the idea that the vast majority of the world's species remain undiscovered. Even after years of wandering around in tropical forests, I see something new and surprising every day. I can't stand the idea that this diversity could disappear as a result of our actions and without our even knowing that it ever existed.
What's a normal day like for you?
One of my favorite aspects of being a biologist is that there is no such thing as a normal day! I am a writer, a fundraiser, an educator, a traveler, a speaker, a statistician, a historian, an engineer, and an explorer all in a single day. I need variety and I think that biology fits the bill. That said, my day starts with granola, milk, and email.
Do you have a hero?
Oh dear, too many to name. I particularly admire people who have been able to translate complex and difficult scientific issues in such a way that it becomes accessible for the rest of us.
What has been your favorite experience in the field? The most challenging?
For the last couple of years, I have been working in the canopy of a tropical cloud forest. It's almost unimaginably green, one of the most beautiful places I have ever seen. When you are looking down at the forest floor as the clouds roll through the forest, it's an indescribable feeling.
What are your other passions?
The more time I have in the kitchen, the better. Good food is universal; cooking and feeding people makes me very happy. I take all of my own chef's knives on all of my field research trips that are longer than a week or two (most of them). I think that being able to cook while I am traveling is calming and brings me a little sense of routine.
What do you do in your free time?
I try to see as much of family and friends as possible. Whenever I can, I try to sneak in a ride on my road bicycle. I confess that I don't object to a few hours on the couch reading.
If you could have people do one thing to help save animal diversity, what would it be?
As we go about our daily lives, I think that it can be hard for us to feel connected to a remote tropical forest. However, I always try to remember that my actions have consequences for all the people and places that share our planet.
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I am fascinated by the idea that the vast majority of the world's species remain undiscovered. Even after years of wandering around in tropical forests, I see something new and surprising every day.
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